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Sermon by Revd Andrew Warmback (Mark 10: 35-45)
“Whoever wishes to be first among you will be the servant of all.” Amazing words from Jesus. For Jesus being “first”, gaining recognition and honour, achieving greatness and success will, in fact, be achieved through serving others.
Jesus’ teaching and practice is in stark contrast to the behaviour of others in society. Like much of his teaching what Jesus says here is a surprising reversal of expectations – we do not see a servant as being “first,” the most significant among us.
Lord it over them
In referring to the behaviour of others Jesus says to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognise as their rulers lord it over them and their great ones are tyrants.” A description of exploitative, top down and self-serving leadership.
Sit at your right and left
Let’s look a bit more at the context of Jesus’ remarks on being a servant.
Earlier in the this passage, James and John ask Jesus, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand, and one at your left, in glory.” Together with Peter, these two brothers are described as being closest to Jesus. And now they want the prime seats, the ones next to Jesus, knowing that these seats will give them the most honour, influence, prestige and power.
Not to be served but to serve
Jesus does not deny their request but replies by asking if they are able to drink the cup that he drinks and to be baptized with the baptism with which he is baptized. These refer to Jesus’ suffering. In the last verse Jesus makes it clear “The son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give up his life as a ransom for many.”
In bringing Good News to those who were poor, in mixing with and helping those who were looked down upon, including women, those who were considered unclean in various ways, those with disabilities: the so-called unsuccessful, Jesus would suffer much. Rejected by the religious leaders, he was arrested, tortured and executed on the cross.
Jesus knew the cost of serving others; it would cost him his live.
Honour is given to those who serve and be prepared to suffer for it.
Serving with self-respect
We can easily misunderstood the nature of true servanthood. There is a passage in the Bible that helps us most understand Jesus’ practice of service. It is in John’s gospel, chapter 13, verses 3 & 4. Just before Jesus washes his disciples feet, we read: “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself.”
In serving others Jesus did not give up his self-respect, or even his authority. He served others from a position of strength. He know his own worth and served others lovingly and with dignity and in humility.
Local government elections
The local government elections are just around the corner. In our neighbourhoods we see the pictures of candidates on poles promising to improve our lives, to build better communities together, to get things done.
We must to ask: if elected, will my councillor genuinely serve the community rather than use their position to enrich themselves and further their own political ambitions. What does real servant leadership mean in practice?
“Be a Light to your Community”
In a pastoral letter for a previous local government election, entitled “Be a Light to your Community,” (2000) the KwaZulu-Natal Church Leaders’ Group ended their letter with “A word to those elected.” These words are relevant to this election too. They concluded their letter as follows:
We also have a message to those who are elected. Put the interest of people before your own. Practice fairness, refrain from corruption, be people of integrity. Go beyond the call of duty, beyond the needs of your own party. Once elected, your mandate becomes wider than that of just the people who elected you. You are called to serve the whole community across all party divisions. Be accountable and responsible to that community. Listen, hear and act. In a special way you too are called to be a light to your community.
Shepherd and Good Steward
The images or models of leadership that Jesus uses includes that of a shepherd. He also tells stories of good household stewards, who express care for those in their charge, and who protect them.
We believe that all leadership is exercised on behalf of God and we are responsible to God.
In this season of stewardship we consider ways in which we can use our gifts and skills and money to serve others both within the church and beyond. We do this willingly and joyfully. It is in serving others, in giving of ourselves, and in giving up that we find meaning, purpose and fulfilment in our lives.
Jesus calls us all to be servants to one another.
By God’s grace it is in the often behind the scenes and unnoticed acts of service that true greatness and success is to be found.
During this difficult time of the global pandemic, you are invited to make a contribution to the ministry and mission of our church by making a donation to the following account: Account Name: St Paul’s Church Account Number: 50854628623 Bank: First National Bank (FNB) Branch Code: 221426